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Exposing the ‘Secret Election Act’

Though it passed the North Dakota Senate 43-3, here’s hoping the House gives SR 2271 –I call it the Secret Election Act — the visible death it deserves.

This under-the-radar bill attempts to maintain the integrity of the Electoral College for presidential elections. However you feel about the Electoral College, this is NOT the way to do it. It is ham-handed, backhanded and rewards secrecy.

And now, at least one of the senators who voted for the bill is having second thoughts.

Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, responded to my inquiry as to why she voted yes:

“First, this bill has no effect unless the country does away with the electoral vote.” (Note: Not quite true, as explained later). “Unfortunately, however, I realize now that it’s not that simple and was unaware of the potential major implications of this. I am big enough to admit when I made a mistake and did not have as much information as I should have before voting yes,” Oban wrote.

“I listened to the bill carrier (as cynically as he described it), accepted the unanimous support of the committee’s recommendations, and looked through testimony on the bill, none of which opposed it.

“It is rare that I can’t defend my vote, but in this case, that’s where I’m at. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t do my homework on it and am hoping there is some opposition raised in the House to defeat it.”

Basically, the law would prohibit any election official, including the secretary of state, from releasing the actual vote totals for the presidential election until the state’s Electoral College members convene. Officials would be allowed to release info on percentages, but not actual vote totals. This is totally opposite of the transparency and open-government feelings most North Dakotans revere.

A former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul Anuzis, appearing on the podcast of conservative-libertarian Rob Port, likened the bill to “almost a politburo situation from Soviet Russia.”

I don’t find myself agreeing with Port and right-wing radio host Scott Hennen very often, but I join with them and other bill opponents from the opposite end of the political spectrum who value free, open, and TRANSPARENT elections.

The measure’s proponents are doing this to “thwart” an effort by a group called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to basically nullify the Electoral College and assure that the winner of the popular vote will be chosen president, according to former State Sen. Curtis Olafson of Edinburg.

States that sign on to the NPVIC compact promise to cast their electoral votes for the candidate that tallies the largest popular vote in the country. So far, 15 states, representing 196 electoral votes, have signed on, and another few states and 74 electoral votes would put it at the magic 270 number to pick a president.

According to testimony by Olafson: “If the compact member states don’t have a tally from every state in the country, their own compact language would prohibit them from determining the winner of the national popular vote. Best of all, if this legislation achieves what we believe it will accomplish, the NPVIC backers will have to go back to square one and re-introduce legislation with new compact language in the 16 jurisdictions in which it has already passed.”

The law wouldn’t go into effect “unless and until the NPVIC reaches 270 EC votes within the compact,” Olafson said.

Wonderful, just the type of through-the-backdoor, Machiavellian schemes the public needs in this era of turbulent elections and post-election shenanigans.

I understand many North Dakotans favor the Electoral College, under the premise (misguided, I think, but that’s a subject for another column) that it gives the state a bit more power in selecting a president.

Republicans are especially opposed to the popular vote, so that would explain their 40-0 shutout to pass the bill. But three of six Democratic senators – Merrill Piepkorn of Fargo, Oban of Bismarck, and Richard Marcellais of Belcourt – also voted yes. I received a response from Oban, but not from the other two.

The state Democratic Party said they didn’t know why the three voted yes, but offered me a transcript of Olafson’s testimony and offered that the legislation was “more benign than it sounds.”

Doesn’t sound benign at all to me. I’m hoping the House sees it the same way.

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